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Observatorio (OBS*)

versão On-line ISSN 1646-5954

OBS* vol.8 no.3 Lisboa set. 2014


Framing and Political Discourse Analysis: Bush’s trip to Europe in 2005


María Luisa Azpíroz*

* PhD, Public Communication, Faculty of Communication, University of Navarra, Campus Universitario, 31009 Pamplona, Navarra, España. Postdoctoral researcher - International Relations Unit, Faculty of Law and Political Science, Univerity of Liège. (



Framing empirical research analyzes the construction (frame building) and influence (frame effects) of the frames with which different social agents interpret and communicate reality. Based on Entman’s (2004; 2008) and Kuypers’ (2008; 2009) contributions, this paper proposes and applies a qualitative methodology for the analysis of frame building in political discourse. It is located, therefore, on the strategic and methodological lines of framing research in political communication (Bartolomé; Rodríguez & Sádaba, 2012). As Kinder and Sanders state, frames are “invented and employed by political elites, often with an eye on advancing their own interests or ideologies, and intended to make favorable interpretations prevail” (Kinder & Sanders, 1990, p. 74). The paper includes a theoretical framework that reviews the evolution of framing literature in Communication, focusing especially on empirical studies. The contributions adopted for the elaboration of the methodology and the application process are explained in detail. The context of the case study, Bush’s discourse about the War on Terror on his trip to Europe in February 2005, is revised. Finally, the results obtained and the conclusions are detailed.

Keywords: Framing, Political Discourse, War on Terror


Theoretical framework

Framing theory in communication studies

Following the chronology of Vicente and López (2009), there are three stages in the development of framing theory applied to communication studies.

The first stage (1974-1990) is an initial phase of formation, which corresponds to the beginning of the concept of frame and its first applications to communication studies. Tuchman (1978), Gans (1979) and Gitlin (1980) introduce the concept of frame, understood as the organizing and interpretative frame of news, in communication studies.

In a second stage (1991-1999) starts a debate among the authors who understand framing as the second dimension of the agenda-setting (McCombs,1997; McCombs & Ghanem, 2001) and those who consider framing as a theory complementary to agenda-setting but distinct and autonomous (Price and Tewksbury, 1997; Scheufele,1999). Empirical studies, which examined journalistic treatment as a step beyond the selection of topics (Vicente & López, 2009, p.19) seemed closer to the first position. Framing is consolidated as a theory in communication studies despite the abundance of conceptual perspectives and the uncontrolled methodological application, which lead to Entman’s well-known description of framing as a “fractured paradigm” (Entman, 1993, p.51).

The third phase, initiated at the beginning of the new century, seeks for a theoretical reorganization and introduces a greater empirical production. Reference works that review and discuss what has been done so far are developed, such as those of Scheufele (1999), Reese (2001; 2007), Sádaba (2001; 2008), De Vreese (2005), Chong and Druckman (2007), or Entman (2004; 2008). The debate on the assimilation of framing with the second level of agenda-setting seems to have been overcome in favor of those who defend framing as a complementary but autonomous theory regarding agenda-setting (see Journal of Communication, 2007, Vol. 57).

Since the mid-nineties, research in framing has opted more for a quantitative methodology and for news frame analysis. However, in recent years there has been an increase in more integrative views (Vicente & López, 2009, p.23). The study of the relationship between framing and political power also gains strength: there is an increased interest both in the elaboration of frames by politicians and in the way these frames influence the media. The work of George Lakoff, Don’t Think of an Elephant (2004) contributes to make framing theory popular as a political communication tool, arousing the interest of professionals in this activity.

Quantitative and qualitative methodology in framing

Methodologically, the differences among the various authors can be located in the bet for a quantitative, qualitative or mixed methodology. Quantitative and qualitative methodologies are different, with different assumptions, goals and criteria of validity. They resort to different means and processes and they allow reaching different results and knowledge.

Quantitative methodology seeks neutrality and the absence of evaluations, eliminating any subjectivity. The procedure is deductive: there are some previous hypotheses that are to be checked in particular cases, in order to achieve universal generalization or results. That is, to make causal inferences that explain why something happens in a certain way based on the statistical measurement of data. Quantitative methods in framing, especially content analysis and experimental techniques, are based on the premise that it is possible to comprehensively identify and accurately measure all the elements of frame present in the discourse (Vicente & López, 2009, p.23; Kuypers, 2009, pp.304-306). According to Hertog and McLeod, quantitative analysis is more successful when there is a particular set of concepts clearly related to a frame and the number of times they are repeated reflects the emphasis in that frame. However, the attempt to classify and obtain a list of concepts characteristic of a frame may produce the loss of many nuances. In addition, powerful concepts central to frames don’t need to be repeated many times to have a big impact (Hertog & McLeod, 2001, p.152). Quantitative analysis does not integrate the context, which is key to determine the interpretation existing in texts (Kuypers, 2009, p.304).

Qualitative methodology approaches research in a flexible and intuitive way, without preconceived assumptions. The own researcher, who must have an extensive previous contextual knowledge (background on the case study) and interpretive abilities, is the main tool of analysis. However, though subjectivity is not eliminated, in the approach to the object of study personal prejudices and beliefs must be put aside. Qualitative methodology seeks to describe and interpret the qualities of a phenomenon in its context and to achieve a deep understanding, in contrast with the statistical measurement of some elements or the generalization of results typical of quantitative methodology. Quantity is considered, in any case, part of quality. The procedure is inductive: hypotheses emerge afterwards, from the observation of certain details (Kuypers,-). Qualitative methods in framing (case of discourse analysis, focus groups or interviews) have a more realistic and contextualized interpretive look, so that they don’t overlook the presence of elements with a high symbolic content or cultural resonance1, or what is evoked without being explicit, or the omission of important data. Qualitative methodology allows going beyond content, since the context where words are located is also interpreted. However, it creates other sort of problems, such as a complicated categorization or an excessive influence of the analyst (Vicente & López, 2009, p.23).

Empirical research on framing: Two variables

There are basically two types of variables used in empirical research on framing, both in quantitative and qualitative methodologies.

On the one side, there are the so-called “framing mechanisms” or “symbolic mechanisms”, which are the focal points that serve to identify a particular frame. For example, the use of key words and phrases, descriptions, metaphors, examples, historical and cultural references that, because of its repetition, symbolic content or cultural resonance, are attributed to a specific frame. In the case of media frames, attention is also paid, for example, to the location of informative or opinion pieces, to the elements with more impact (front pages, collective headings, headings, leads, photographs...) or the presence of different sources (Tankard, 2001, p.101).

On the other side, there are the “reasoning mechanisms” and “framing functions”. Reasoning mechanisms (causal analysis, consequences and effects, appealing to principles) provide justifications or arguments for the adoption of certain frames (Gamson & Modigliani, 1989, pp.3-4). Entman (1993, p.52; 2004, p.5) talks about the four framing functions (which turn out to be very similar to reasoning mechanisms): problem definition, causal analysis, remedy and evaluation.

Empirical research on framing: Five methodological approaches

Matthes and Kohring (2008) examine and cite authors linked with five methodological approaches (not mutually exclusive) concerning empirical research of framing in the media. The linguistic approach, the computer-assisted approach and the deductive approach can be considered quantitative methods. The hermeneutic approach is a qualitative method. Finally, the manual holistic approach proposes a mixed method.

·The linguistic approach is based on the idea that specific linguistic elements signify a frame. The disadvantage would be the difficulty of carrying it out with large text samples and of interweaving the linguistic elements to shape the frame itself. Besides, words with a big symbolic load can be of great importance for the frame even if they are not repeated many times.

·The computer-assisted approach is based on the same idea than the previous one: words are identified and grouped into clusters using computer software to ensure reliability. It adds the difficulty that a machine captures double meanings, ironies and subtleties in the discourse.

·The deductive approach theoretically derives frames from the literature and codes them in standard content analysis. It demands a clear idea of the frames likely to be encountered. Therefore, deductive studies are limited to already established frames.

·The hermeneutic approach identifies frames by providing an interpretative account of texts linking up frames with broader cultural elements. Studies are based on small samples that reflect the discourse on a particular issue or event. Frames are described in detail and there is not quantification. The main criticism to this approach points to the difficulty of explaining how frames were extracted from the texts.

·In the manual holistic approach frames are first generated by a qualitative analysis of some news texts and then are coded as holistic variables in a manual content analysis. As in the previous one, criticism points to lack of transparency when explaining how frames were extracted.



The methodology proposed here for the analysis of political frame building is qualitative and can be located under the hermeneutic approach. It resorts to Kuypers’ proposal of analyzing frames from the perspective of rhetorical criticism: this way, it is able to show transparency in explaining how frames were extracted. Besides, the matrix of analysis in which results are based is included in the annex, in order to show how the proposed methodology has been applied operational and visually.

The methodology proposed is based on the contributions of Robert M. Entman (definition and framing functions) and Jim A. Kuypers (premises of rhetorical criticism applied to framing analysis).

Entman’s contributions

Robert M. Entman defines the frame as a narrative, result of a process of selection, which promotes a particular interpretation:

Framing is defined as selecting and highlighting some aspects of a situation to promote a particular interpretation. The interpretation generally comes through a narrative that encompasses an interrelated definition of the policy problem, analysis of its causes, moral evaluation of those involved, and remedy (Entman, 2008, p.90).

Definition of problems, causal analysis, evaluation and remedy are framing functions that, interrelated, compose the frame, the narrative. The objects of framing may be issues, events or actors, whether they are individual leaders, groups or nations (Entman, 2004, p.23).

Kuypers’ contributions

Supporting qualitative methodology, Jim A. Kuypers proposes an analysis of framing guided by rhetorical criticism. Kuypers defines rhetoric as “the strategic use of communication, oral or written, to achieve specifiable goals” (Kuypers, 2009, p.288). To define criticism, Kuypers adopts the definition of Andrews, Leff and Terril:

[…] the systematic process of illuminating and evaluating products of human activity. Criticism presents and supports one possible interpretation and judgment. The interpretation, in turn, may become the basis for other interpretations and judgments (Andrews, Leff & Terril, 1998, p.6).

Kuypers (2009, pp. 289-294) highlights that, given the symbolic nature of rhetorical criticism, presented data cannot be objectively verified. Thus it is not about presenting the own statements as the truth about reality, but as a way of describing it. Therefore, the aim is to share statements that are justified and supported by textual evidence, produced after a thorough reading and mastering the context of the case study. The audience may then accept or refuse the statements. So, rhetorical criticism has an argumentative nature: its aims are criticism and understanding.

Given the argumentative nature of rhetorical criticism, its validity is established on how it complies with certain parameters or criteria. In this sense, Kuypers (2009, pp. 295-296) highlights some aspects to be taken into account. First, objectivity, in the sense of approximating to the object of study with an open and disinterested mind leaving aside personal political and ideological considerations. It is necessary to explain the criteria used to analyze and value the object of study, so that others may verify that the author has not imposed his own ideology on the study. Second, the importance of a logical integrity: each statement must be supported by textual evidence. In this way, another researcher could check the sample analyzed and verify the arguments that have been supported by textual evidence, even if he disagrees with the author’s statements and conclusions.

Kuypers proposes an inductive analysis of framing based on rhetorical criticism. He applies his proposal to the framing analysis to compare Bush and the American media frame building during the first months of the War on Terror (Kuypers, 2006; Kuypers, Cooper & Althouse, 2008). The analysis works without predetermined codes, themes or frames, since these are identified through a detailed textual analysis. The analysis concerns the identification of themes that the President and the American media are talking about, as well as the particular interpretation (frame) they make of these themes. For Kuypers “a theme is the subject of discussion, or that which is the subject of the thought expressed. The frame, of course, is suggesting a particular interpretation of the theme” (Kuypers 2009, p.302). Kuypers’ themes would be equivalents to Entman’s objects of framing: issues, events, actors (whether they are individual leaders, groups or nations), about which there are also frames (particular interpretations). Describing the results, Kuypers notes that both in political and media discourse there is a master-frame, that of the War on Terror, composed of different themes that are interpreted individually: each theme has its own frames. Again, there is a similarity to Entman, who talks about the Cold War and the War on Terror as unifying frameworks (Entman, 2004, pp.2, 122,153). Both Kuypers’ master-frame and Entman’s framework about the War on Terror could be equated to a sort of “umbrella”2 under which there is a variety of themes and frames.

Methodology proposal

This paper proposes a methodology for political discourse analysis where the frame is understood in three different ways. First, as any specific interpretation about a theme. Second, as the narrative about a theme. This narrative is composed with the grouping of different interpretations about the theme depending on the framing function they exert. Third, as the narrative about the more general theme that is the object of study (the master-frame), composed with the different themes and narratives that it encompasses.

The complete process followed in this article has five steps:

1. Approaching the case study with an open mind, leaving aside political and ideological considerations and explaining the criteria used (Theoretical Framework and Methodology).

2. Research of the case study historical and political context (Context of Study)

The case study is Bush’s discourse about the War on Terror on his trip to Europe in February 2005, after been re-elected as President of the United States. The research of the case study context includes the historical and political framework (the War on Terror, the Bush Doctrine and the Transformational Diplomacy).

3. Application of the methodology (Methodology, Results and Annex)

3.1. The methodology is applied to three documents taken from the White House archive: Bush’s speech to European leaders (“Concert Noble”, Brussels, 21 February 2005); Bush and NATO Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer’s press conference (NATO Headquarters, Brussels, 22 February 2005); and Bush, Juncker and Barroso’s press conference (“Justus Lipsius”, Brussels, 22 February 2005)3. Only Bush’s discourse is analyzed. There is a detailed reading of documents to analyze and identifying themes (and subthemes, where appropriate) that may be included under the umbrella of the general theme War on Terror. Themes are related to issues, events and actors. Previous contextual knowledge makes it possible to decide which themes can be located under the War on Terror umbrella and which cannot. On his trip to Europe in February 2005 Bush talked, for example, about themes such as China arms embargo or The Kyoto Protocol. These themes are not related to the War on Terror. The themes founded are: “US-EU relations”, “NATO situation” and “challenge that the US, EU and NATO face in the Middle East”. On this latter theme, Bush talks in general and also alluding to different countries, which have been included as subthemes: Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

3.2. The different themes and subthemes are in the vertical column, and the four framing functions are in the horizontal column in a matrix. The cells are filled with the excerpts that contain interpretations about each theme (the first way of understanding frames) under the framing function considered most appropriate. It is here where the researcher’s interpretative capacity comes more into play and where others may accept or refuse his decisions, since frames don’t always adjust to one of the four framing functions in a clear way. For example, in the theme “United States-European Union relations”, the frame “we must never forget our shared achievements” could be understood as a remedy proposal or as an evaluation. Besides, it must be taken into account that it is not always possible to compose the frame as a completely developed narrative: one theme may lack framing functions because they can be deduced from other framing functions or because they are implied. For instance, the subtheme “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” (from the theme “challenge the United States, the European Union and NATO face in the Middle East”) doesn’t include the framing functions problem and causes, because it is an ancient conflict and those framing functions are supposed to be known.

The matrix is included in an annex to show in detail the statements selected for each theme/subtheme and under which framing function they have been classified. However, it is also possible to substitute the matrix with footnotes (if possible, including the paragraph or line number for faster localization of the excerpts) in the description of results: footnotes could also fulfill the condition of supporting each statement with textual evidence.

3.3. During the process of analysis, framing mechanisms are indirectly found: key words and sentences, historical and cultural references with symbolic load and/or often repeated, which give strength to Bush’s discourse. The framing mechanisms identified are stressed in the matrix: key words and expressions appear in bold and historical and cultural references appear underlined. They are also commented in the presentation of results.

The inclusion of framing functions and framing mechanisms in a frame matrix has also been proposed by authors like Portilla (2012) or Van Gorp (2010). However, this article bets for a qualitative methodology and is related to the hermeneutic approach to framing analysis. It combines Entman’s definition of frame and four framing functions with the descriptive and argumentative nature and the criteria of validity of the rhetorical criticism perspective that Kuypers proposes (mastering the case study context, objectivity and explanation of the criteria used, statements supported by textual evidence). The methodology interprets results through the shaping of narratives.


4. Interpretation of results

Once the matrix is elaborated, it’s time to proceed to the shaping of the War on Terror narrative or master-frame. It can be clarifying to proceed first to the shaping of the frame or narrative about each theme and subtheme identified (the second way of understanding frames). This paper includes just the frame or narrative about the general theme, the War on Terror, which subsumes the rest of themes and subthemes and their narratives (the third way of understanding frames).

Context of study

As a step previous to analysis, the case study -of Bush’s trip to Europe in February 2005- is situated within its historical and political context (War on Terror, Bush Doctrine, Transformational Diplomacy).

The American government replied to 9/11 terrorist attacks with the War on Terror, a foreign policy strategy focused on the fight against international terrorism and its allies. The first military initiative was the Afghanistan war, which counted on the support of NATO, the UN and a coalition of 18 countries. However, the decision to intervene in Iraq found less political and popular support, since many considered the arguments presented by the Bush Administration unsupported by convincing proof. The decision to start war without the approval of the UN or a broad international coalition, together with a series of scandals related with the War on Terror that took place in the following years (like torture of war prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo or the knowledge of the existence of secret CIA prisons and flights in Europe) led to an increase in already existing anti-Americanism and to a profound image crisis for the United States.

The so-called Bush Doctrine contains the basic notions of security and foreign policy that support the War on Terror actions (Singh, 2006, pp.3-4). It is developed along three stages and it can be summarized in three premises. First, that the United States makes no distinction between terrorists and those who knowingly harbor or provide aid to them (the first stage of the War on Terror, focused on Afghanistan). Second, that the United States can conduct “preemptive actions” if considered necessary for security reasons, which means that the United States must be ready to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States or its friends and allies (the second stage of the War on Terror, focused on Iraq). These two premises are included in The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, September 2002 (The White House, 2002). Third, that the only sustainable model of government is one based on democracy and freedom, which must be promoted in order to end terrorism and secure peace (the third stage of the War on Terror, during Bush’s second presidential term, focused on stabilizing Afghanistan and Iraq, rebuilding the relationship with the European allies, improving the American image and encouraging the democratization needed in the world to fight terrorism and secure peace). This third premise is reflected in The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, March 2005 (The White House, 2005).

The War on Terror was accompanied by two public diplomacy strategies, an activity that can be briefly defined as “the art of cultivating public opinion in order to achieve foreign policy goals” (La Porte, 2001, p.13). The first public diplomacy strategy was named “The War of Ideas”. Its aim was to communicate political discourse about Afghanistan and Iraq in an effective way and to improve the country’s image abroad, especially in the Muslim world. The second public diplomacy strategy, Transformational Diplomacy, was developed during the second presidential term. Its aim was to transform attitudes toward the image and the politics of the United States, promoting understanding between cultures and illustrating the need for and the success of the War on Terror. It also aimed to carry out a democratic transformation, especially in the Middle East, through the encouragement of and the collaboration with civil society (nation building). Bush’s trip to Europe in 2005 took place at the same time as this second strategy, so his message is expected to reflect the aims described.

In February 2005, having just started his second term as president, George W. Bush travelled to Europe with the objective of re-establishing good relations with the members of the European Union and NATO, since they had been seriously damaged after the Iraq crisis. The trip took place from the 20th to the 24th of February, days during which Bush visited Belgium, Germany and Slovakia. There are three moments in which the president communicated his message about the War on Terror to the leaders of the European Union and NATO. On February 21st in Concert Noble (Brussels), Bush, with a conciliatory tone, highlighted the strong bonds existing in the relationship between the United States and the European Union and the necessity of working together to face global challenges, especially the situation in the Middle East. In the NATO Summit of February 2005, which took place the morning of February 22nd, the leaders of the transatlantic alliance confirmed their support of achieving stability in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq, and their commitment to reinforcing the association between NATO and the European Union (see NATO Website). Bush didn’t give a speech on this occasion, but he granted a press conference with NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, in which he talked about the issues discussed in the summit and answered journalists’ questions. The same day, in the afternoon, there was a closed door meeting in the headquarters of the Council of the European Union. It was the first visit of an American President to it as a supranational organization. After the meeting, Bush held another press conference, this time with the President of the European Council, Jean-Claude Juncker, and with the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Durão Barroso4.



The analysis of Bush’s discourse reveals the presence of three themes related to the War on Terror and their corresponding narratives. One narrative refers to the relationship between the United States and the European Union. Another refers to the situation of NATO. The third and most developed narrative refers to the challenge the United States, the European Union and NATO face in the Middle East. This narrative includes subthemes and specific narratives that refer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. The three narratives are related and together comprise the War on Terror master-frame. Below, each paragraph represents a framing function of the War on Terror master-frame: definition of problems (P), causal analysis (C), remedies (R) and evaluation (E).

War on Terror master-frame

(P) Bush understands that the relationship between the United States, the European Union and NATO are in a moment of crisis, and that there is a risk of staying stuck in the past. Additionally, they face the common challenge of instability and terrorism in the Middle East, a region that lives in a “status quo of tyranny and despair”. This problem affects not only the Middle East, since strife in the region may lead to tragedy in other, freer nations. Specifically, Bush mentions the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Syrian’ oppression of Lebanon, the challenge of democratic settlement in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Iran’s relations with terrorist groups, as well as the possibility of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.

(C) The American President recognizes that the hard decisions he took to “liberate” Iraq irritated a lot of Europeans. With reference to the situation in the Middle East, he points out “ideologies of murder”, “terrorist movements” and regimes that “terrorize their own people” and “will not hesitate to support terror abroad”. But he also indicated that the United States shares part of blame for its passivity facing tyranny, for the sake of cheap oil.

(R) However, that changed on September 11th 2001 for the United States, when they discovered that “beneath what appeared to be a placid surface lurked an ideology based upon hatred”. That ideology must be defeated not only by defeating the “agents of terror”, but also by removing the “sources of terror”, accepting the long-term challenge of spreading freedom, democracy, hope, liberty, and prosperity, as the great alternatives to terror. Bush makes two main proposals. First: past divergences (about Iraq) must be forgotten and the alliance between the United States and the European Union, as well as within NATO, must be reinforced, starting “a new era of transatlantic unity” that confronts the current challenges. NATO capabilities must meet the threats of the 21st century and the organization must have also a political component, becoming a forum for strategic dialogue. Second, in reference to the Middle East, the enemy must be pursued, but it is also important to accomplish the long-term challenge of spreading progress and democratic values as alternatives to despair and terror, tipping the “balance of history” in favor of freedom. Bush highlights that the reforms must also be chosen from within, by the friends and partners in the Middle East. Speaking about different Middle Eastern countries, he repeats the idea of the shared commitment to democratic progress. He stands for the end of Syrian’ occupation of Lebanon and the end to its support of terrorist groups. He highlights the European and NATO contribution in Afghanistan and in the “liberation” of Iraq, as well as to the consolidation of democracy in both countries. Bush deals especially with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran. In regard to the former, he defends the existence of two democratic states living side by side in peace and security. He underscores the necessity of achieving a democratic Palestinian state, and the fulfillment by all parties of certain conditions (Israel must freeze settlement activity, Palestine and other Arab states must confront and dismantle terrorist groups and establish normal relations with Israel). He demands that the Iranian regime stops its support of terrorism and does not develop nuclear weapons. And he calls for a diplomatic solution, like the negotiations with the Ayatollahs started by Great Britain, Germany and France. At the same time, he states that in safeguarding the security of free nations, “no option can be taken permanently off the table”, but he says that the rumor that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran “is simply ridiculous”.

(E) Bush’s evaluation of the European Union and NATO has three key points. First, he considers important and hopes that, regardless past differences, the United States will maintain good relations both with the European Union and within NATO, “the most successful alliance in the history of the world”. He insists on the importance of the “transatlantic alliance”, the “great alliance of freedom” that has faced the “great challenges of history”, that is the main pillar of its own security and essential to achieve freedom in the world. Second, he emphasizes the necessity of being united by common democratic values, values that are universal and necessary for world peace (like human rights, human freedom and dignity), values that stand in the tradition of the Magna Carta, the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the North Atlantic Treaty. Third, the alliance must demonstrate its compromise with democratic progress, taking those values to the rest of the world, especially to the Middle East: a free and democratic Iraq, for example, will fight terror and will be a beacon of freedom and a source of true stability in the region. Achieving freedom and peace in the Middle East is crucial for the region and for the rest of the world, since, as happened in Europe, democracy and peace within nations lead to peace between nations. However, the extension of peace is not only a security strategy, since “freedom is a long-distance race”, as Albert Camus said. It’s the “direction of history”, the “permanent hope of humanity”: in everybody’s soul there is something “that desires to be free”.

Framing mechanisms

To attract attention and reinforce his reasoning, Bush employs key words, symbolic expressions and historical and cultural references.

The most repeated key words correspond with the key concepts in his frame. The words democracy, freedom, peace, values, security, alliance and terror (together with their derivatives) stand out. To a lesser extent, so do the words together, history, partner and goal. Framing mechanisms reveal specific frames not only because of their repetition, but also because of their symbolic content or cultural resonance. That is the case of the use Bush makes of the word “liberation” to refer to military intervention in Iraq, when a great part of opponents and many media and academics referred to it as an “invasion” and as a “war”.

The most outstanding expressions, which carry larger symbolic loads, normally correspond to some of the key words (“march of freedom” “beacon of freedom”, “great alliance of freedom”, “war on terror”, “sanctuaries of terror”, “course of history”, “balance of history”) or to their antagonistic ideas (“ideologues of hate”, “ideologues of murder”).

Also worth mentioning are Bush’s allusions to American and European history, as a way of sparking a cultural resonance with his audience and thereby encouraging a greater understanding and acceptance of the message he wants to communicate. He recalls the union of the United States and Europe to defend democratic values (freedom, peace) against totalitarian ideologies, and how the advance of freedom contributed to increasing peace in nations in the Second World War and the Cold War. He also points at the documents that illustrate the values that the United States and the European Union share: the Magna Carta, the Declaration of the Rights of Men and the North Atlantic Treaty. Bush also quotes the writer Albert Camus to support his bet for the spread of freedom, “a long-distance race”, as a way of fighting terror.



The analysis verifies that Bush’s discourse reflects goals of the Transformational Diplomacy, such as upholding the success and convenience of the War on Terror or carrying out a democratic transformation in the Middle East. In his discourse, Bush also tries to address the questions for which he was criticized during the first years of the War on Terror: not taking into consideration of the opinion of the European allies and focusing on the agents of terror (terrorists) more than on the sources of terror (Israeli-Palestinian conflict, poverty and political situation in the Middle East).

In Bush’s discourse there is a clear predominance of the evaluative framing function. The remedy framing function is also widespread, as seen in the references to the improvement of American relations with the European Union and within NATO, the improvement of NATO, and to the challenge that terrorism and the status quo of tyranny and despair in the Middle East represent. In the latter case, Bush also includes specific proposed solutions to different problems: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the consolidation of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Iranian development of nuclear weapons, etc. In contrast, the definition of problems and causal analysis “framing functions” are scarcer. This imbalance may be attributed to the fact that in 2005 the War on Terror had already been working for years, so the detailed description of the problems it faced and their causes may have been considered unnecessary.

The analysis identifies framing mechanisms that carry considerable symbolic load and/or cultural resonance. For example, the use of the word “liberation” to refer to military intervention in Iraq, when a great part of opponents and many media and academics referred to it as an “invasion” and as a “war”. Or the repetition of the words “freedom” and “terror”, in order to characterize the two different sides and their actions in the War on Terror. To Bush also alludes to common history and values between America and Europe.

The qualitative methodology and the hermeneutic approach employed here have the advantage of integrating a deep knowledge of the case study context, as well as an open analysis of discourse. This way, not only present framing functions are identified, but also those that are not so present (as happens in the case of “definition of problems” and “causal analysis”). Besides, framing mechanisms are identified not only according to their repetition, but also knowing their symbolic load. Thanks to the contributions from Entman and Kuypers, the methodology employed allows to determine the War on Terror master-frame, but also which themes and frames are included as part of it.

The methodology proposed has other possible applications, like tracking how a master-frame, with its different themes and frames, evolves through time, and how this evolution is related with changes in the historic context and political strategy5. This paper has analyzed international political discourse in the context of the War on Terror, but the methodology could also be employed for local and national political discourse analysis, and for other master-frames that could be object of analysis through different periods of time (such as climatic change, the economic crisis, etc).



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1 Cultural resonance is produced when ideas, principles or values that correspond to a specific cultural identity or system are referred to or evoked. They help the frame to be more understandable and persuasive (La Porte, T. & Azpíroz, M., 2009, p.13).

2 I take the idea of an umbrella from Matthew C. Nisbet, who mentions the label “poverty” used as a “collective umbrella term” to refer to issues related to income disparity, low wage work and quality jobs (Nisbet, 2009, p.43).

3 See references at the end of the annex.

4 In the case of the two press conferences, the object of analysis were Bush’s declarations and the answers he gave to journalists’ questions.

5 In fact, the case study analyzed here complements the analysis of Bush’s discourse about the War on Terror before the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and allows comparison of how Bush’s master-frame evolves. To check Bush’s master-frame evolution in the first two years of the War on Terror, see Azpíroz, M., 2012, 2013.



(1)WHITE HOUSE ARCHIVES. (2005, February 21). President Discusses American and European Alliance in Belgium. [3621 words] Available:

(2)WHITE HOUSE ARCHIVES. (2005, February 22). President and Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer discuss NATO Meeting. [3685 words] Available:

(3)WHITE HOUSE ARCHIVES. (2005, February 22). President meets with E.U. leaders. [2693 words] Available:

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